Could Senators Thwart Facebook Privacy Grab?

Four senators write a stern letter to Mark Zuckerberg

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Status update: "It's complicated" between Mark Zuckerberg and four U.S. senators. On Tuesday, Sens. Charles Schumer, Al Franken, Michael Bennet and Mark Begich wrote a letter to the Facebook CEO asking him to roll back the site's latest features. They want instant personalization—a feature that shares user information with other Web sites—to be opt-in rather than opt-out. They warned that "Social networking sites have become the Wild West of the Internet." Is this helpful consumer protection or are the senators out of their element?

  • This Is a Welcome Effort, writes Ryan Tate at Gawker: "It often takes decades to achieve this level of government scrutiny. Microsoft was founded in 1975; it took nearly two decades before the Justice Department went after the software company on antitrust grounds. Started the same year, Apple Inc. avoided antitrust issues until last year. But Facebook's repeated and brazen rollbacks of users privacy have apparently touched a nerve."
  • Touched a Nerve? This Is Political Pandering, writes Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry at Business Insider. "[This looks like] posturing by politicians wanting to look web-savvy and caring about their voters' daily lives by making a big hoopla around Facebook's new features. There doesn't seem to have been a huge user backlash against Instant Personalization (yet). And even if there were, Facebook also has a history of keeping new features despite howls of protest, tweaking them, and then being proven right about them as the site keeps growing unstoppably like a weed."
  • Senators Are Right, writes Jason Kincaid at TechCrunch: "The senators are spot on: Facebook has been systematically stripping away users’ privacy one item at a time and adding it to the bucket of information it considers publicly accessible. It’s debatable whether or not a user’s list of friends, or Interests and Activities (which recently could be made private but are now all public Fan Pages) really constitute sensitive information. But the fact of the matter is that people built their profiles under the impression that they were private, and users don’t stand to benefit by having their control over this data reduced."
  • No They Aren't, counters Eric Eldon at Inside Facebook: "The senators may or may not understand how the technical aspects of this policy work. What they should be focusing on here, but don’t seem to be, is the fact that some people are breaking Facebook’s terms of service. Data 'theft' is potentially a law enforcement issue that all web companies face, and congress should be working to help them fight it."
  • The Demands Are Reasonable, writes Sam Diaz at ZDNet: "It sounds to me that Facebook may need a better way to reach out to its users on what these changes means and how it affects them. After all, Facebook has direct access to our Facebook inboxes, our Facebook walls and our Facebook News Feeds. If Facebook wanted to convey an easy-to-understand message to its users - emphasis on 'easy-to-understand' - it certainly has the tools at its fingertips. If it did a better job of that, maybe it could finally launch a product or partnership or redesign without getting backlash from users or formal letters from U.S. senators."
  • This Is Not a Priority, insists Ron Schenone at The Blade: "At a time in our nation’s history when the bankers and Wall Street insiders are running amok, when we are trillions of dollars in debt, when we have wars being fought on two fronts, congressmen have the time to worry about whether Facebook users opt in or opt out? One word. UNBELIEVABLE!"
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